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Does Emotional Intelligence Make a Person Smart?

A high EQ proves more valuable than a high IQ in the workplace

Sovereign Health/Shutterstock
Source: Sovereign Health/Shutterstock

Some might view intelligence as how smart a person is based upon his or her job title, education, social status or even income. A physics professor with a doctorate might be viewed as more intelligent than a manual laborer with no college degree, but this is not necessarily true. Intelligence not only depends on the mental capacity a person possesses, but also on multiple other facets. Intelligence is not just measured by IQ anymore; emotional intelligence now plays a major role in determining the success of an individual. The physics professor might be known as “brash, disconnected and rushed,” while the laborer might be known as “kind, patient and hard-working.” These social characteristics are important in determining the overall intelligence of a person.

Emotional intelligence is a human interactive skill (also seen in chimpanzees and bonobos). Laughter is its most obvious expression, which is rarely discussed as such. Laughter is like breaking bread without the calories, and is often referred to by the famous Victor Borge quote: “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” How individuals regulate and control their emotions plays a large role in their success in society.

What is emotional intelligence?

Defined as the ability to identify and manage emotions appropriately, emotional intelligence encompasses three attributes: 1) emotional awareness, 2) the ability to understand emotions and apply them to constructive tasks, and 3) the ability to regulate and manage emotions appropriately. For example, when someone comes home angry after a bad day at work, emotional intelligence will allow the person to recognize that anger, evaluate the cause of the anger and decide on an appropriate plan to deal with it without doing something regrettable. Staying angry, blaming others and acting out on that anger may seem like the easiest route, but that is neither the smartest nor the healthiest.

It goes without saying that negative emotions like anger are much more difficult to manage than positive ones like happiness, but learning to manage the difficult feelings strengthens emotional intelligence. Sometimes this means taking the time to think internally and reflect on that particular feeling. Delaying reaction for this reflection might give the person the chance to calm down before taking action. Imagine a successful businesswoman who is a Harvard graduate. If she lashes out in a work environment rather than taking the time to reflect, her image becomes marred. On the other hand, if she delays reaction and reflects internally to think of an appropriate response, she appears calm and professional. That display of emotional intelligence can matter more in today’s workplace than where the person went to school.

Who’s the boss?

Emotional intelligence, when well developed, is not only emotional, but involves psychological and cultural knowledge and skills. Simplistically stated, it’s “putting oneself in the other person’s shoes,” but with knowledge and sensitivity. A Harvard graduate, for example, can be seen as mature or immature, depending on his or her emotional intelligence. Some say maturity is the ability to feel and reflect without acting.

When I was at McLean Hospital, a division of Massachusetts General and a Harvard teaching hospital, there was an established view about MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard’s Business School. The average student at MIT was thought to be brighter, but the Harvard MBA was usually that person’s boss. Not surprisingly, in the past 30 years MIT has not only established a rigorous liberal arts college, but demands participation as well as the selection of a broader incoming student. I guess the question of “who’s the boss” is never limited.

In his book “Give and Take,” Adam Grant outlines four operational constructs: Smart Givers, Givers, Matchers and Takers. Smart Givers and Givers incorporate the concepts of EQ, even though Grant doesn’t directly refer to EQ. Having a high EQ doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a successful CEO, but you could qualify for sainthood. It’s how you use your EQ, which Grant differentiates between Smart Givers and Givers. Smart Givers apply the operational aspects of emotional intelligence, even though Grant doesn’t directly mention EQ. Givers become saints who don’t get promoted, because they don’t apply these operational aspects including understanding the limitations of giving.

Measuring emotional intelligence

An emotional intelligence quotient, better known as EQ, is the toll used to measure emotional intelligence. Two major categories can be used to measure EQ, according to John D. Mayer and colleagues: “1) Specific ability tests measure a key specific ability related to emotional intelligence such as the capacity to accurately identify emotion in faces. 2) General integrative tests measure across a number of specific emotional intelligence skills to provide an overall picture of an individual’s emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence for success

Emotional intelligence in the workplace has been a hot topic in recent literature. Many researchers believe that emotional intelligence can be improved through developing interpersonal and social skills. Characteristics such as listening, practicing and recognizing body language, embracing differences, showing empathy, asking questions that help identify emotions and feelings, and learning to relate to others are all skills that can be used in the office between employees and managers. All individuals process ideas and react differently, but it is how they relate and react to stressful situations that may separate them from the rest of the pack.

A high IQ at one point was used to measure intelligence, but now employers and leaders alike are measuring intelligence in other ways and lot of it is based on emotional and mental maturity. A higher EQ allows individuals to apply their intellectual gifts (IQ) in a more effortless and successful manner whether as part of a team, group or corporation.

Contributed by Kristen Fuller, M.D.